Inviting Inclusivity

The first steps a leader can take to create a culture of belonging Sara Teppema

New Joint Committee on Inclusion, Equity and Diversity

We are excited to announce the SOA’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee has merged with the Casualty Actuarial Society’s (CAS’) D&I committee to form the Joint Committee on Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (JCIED). Our committee kicked off in late August and is made up of members of both actuarial organizations, as well as nonactuaries who provide expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion. I co-chair the committee with Mallika Bender, FCAS, MAAA.

The committee currently has three work groups with important missions:

➊| Career encouragement. Promote the actuarial profession among students in underrepresented groups and educators.
➋| Professional development. Raise awareness about diversity and inclusion issues and share best practices with the CAS and SOA memberships.
➌| Diversity in leadership. Increase diversity within CAS and SOA leadership as well as management roles at employers and sponsoring organizations.

The broader strategic committee will support the three work groups and oversee measurement of impact and communications for all activities. We will share our activities in future issues of The Actuary and via other SOA communications. I would love to hear from you regarding the SOA’s diversity, equity and inclusion activities—please email me with your comments and ideas!

I am a big fan of social scientist Brené Brown. I highly recommend her latest book, Dare to Lead, in which she brings her past work on vulnerability and courage into the realm of leadership. The book incorporates many practical examples and tools that we, as actuaries, can all apply to our work as leaders. Brown defines a leader as “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”

As the Society of Actuaries’ (SOA’s) chair for Inclusion, Equity and Diversity, I naturally latched onto a section of the book on cultivating a culture of belonging, inclusivity and diverse perspectives. Doing so is the antidote to common yet harmful practices of tolerating discrimination, encouraging echo chambers in which a leader pays greater attention to ideas from their team that echo their own, and promoting a culture of “fitting-in.” Brown says, “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”1 How can we, as leaders, encourage a culture where the people with whom we share one-third of our lives can be who they truly are? How can we create that sense of belonging for ourselves, our teams and others at work or in our personal lives who share our goals?

First and foremost, belonging requires us to feel comfortable with ourselves. We need to be willing to be open, vulnerable and able to admit that we lack the answer to every question (a challenge for me and many other actuaries!).

Then, we must create environments in which we invite our colleagues to feel like they can belong without needing to modify who they are to fit in. “Fitting in” requires someone to change their natural behavior or say things they don’t believe to be accepted. Belonging only calls for someone to bring their whole self without modifying what they say or do to feel valued.

Examples of a culture of “fitting in” include team networking opportunities that only occur after work at bars; chit-chat that never goes beyond sports or children, leaving out many people who don’t follow sports or don’t have children; or hiring and promotion of people for the sole reason that they are a “good fit” (read: they are just like me).

Can we make the shift to a culture of belonging? The first thing that needs to happen is to make sure inclusive leaders remain aware that they are interacting with other humans. They practice and demonstrate empathy and genuine curiosity about what their colleagues are thinking and doing. People may feel vulnerable sharing information about themselves, but they are never made to feel ashamed or embarrassed, and they feel they can safely share their authentic selves.

Inclusive leaders check their biases. They do not assume to know what their team members want or need unless it has been shared explicitly—further emphasizing the need for safe environments conducive to sharing. Inclusive leaders model this behavior in front of their teams so other emerging leaders understand that empathic leadership is expected.

Inclusive leaders pay attention to interactions among their team members. They notice exclusionary behaviors like favoritism, interruptions during discussions or dismissal of alternative ideas. They quickly confront those behaviors with feedback that is direct and helpful.

Inclusive leaders build and foster opportunities to network into the regular workday, in such a way that these activities are accessible to all. They notice exclusive behavior and find ways to invite everyone in.

Finally, inclusive leaders hire and promote people not because they are a “good fit,” but because they are highly qualified for the role and bring a diverse perspective that may not always agree with other perspectives on the team. They ensure the qualifications for the role are clear so there isn’t room for anyone to say, “I just have a feeling that they won’t fit.”

The traits outlined in this article only scratch the surface of how a leader can create a culture of belonging. As a first step, I invite you to simply take the time to listen to the members of your team, be open to learning something new and value what you learn.

Let me know how your listening goes. Send me an email with your stories—the good and the frustrating—about examples of leadership in inclusion and your experiences. I look forward to incorporating your stories into a future column.

Sara Teppema, FSA, MAAA, FCA, is president of Alta Advisers, a health care consulting firm. Teppema’s pronouns are she/her/hers.

Copyright © 2019 by the Society of Actuaries, Chicago, Illinois.